John Hiatt: stupendous at the Music Hall 

A live review of John Hiatt & His Combo

John Hiatt & His Combo
Charleston Music Hall
May 11

Songwriter and bandleader John Hiatt led an enraptured Music Hall audience on a big-hearted stroll through his deep musical catalog on Tuesday evening. Their stupendous two-hour set was an amazing journey that meandered from themes of love and hope to death and salvation. Their interaction and chemistry allowed for subtle, effective, and emotionally powerful musical moments.

Hiatt and his band — drummer Kenny Blevins, bassist Patrick O'Hearn, and lead guitarist/mandolinist Doug Lancio — didn't reach too far into the more somber, darker numbers of their vast catalog, though. They mixed things up quite a bit, playing several tunes from Hiatt's new studio album The Open Road as well as a small pile of fan favorites and deep cuts.

"Drive South" kicked things off with Hiatt's vocals buried a little low in the mix. His fans knew he was singing about being "with the one you love." It only a took a few moments for the engineers to mix things at the best volume levels. By the time the band hit "Perfectly Good Guitar," things were cooking well. Hiatt looked happy and sang with a sly grin. He managed more than a few amusing side stories and quips on the mic as he switched guitars between songs (he complimented Charleston for its shrimp and weather). The band's good mood accelerated with every step.

Blevins and O'Hearn played steadily through the set, only occasionally adding a tasteful fill or embellishment. The highly musical Lancio's guitar solos and phrases stood out right away as the band's secret weapon. A veteran Nashville sideman and studio engineer — and a longtime collaborator with songwriter Patty Griffin — Lancio's picking and slide styles were melodic, modest, and tasteful.

Some of the highlights from the new album included a sturdy performance of the straight-ahead title track, the slow-burning blues lament "Like a Freight Train," and the surly "My Baby," with Hiatt hollering in his high-toned whine, "Don't you talk about my baby, my baby, my baby."

Hiatt's set bounced ahead with a rock-solid rendition of "Cry Love" pounding along in 6/4 time. Lancio's miniature 12-string provided a pretty counterpart to Hiatt's deep note rhythm work.

"Have a Little Faith in Me" elicited a few tears in the crowd. Playing the melodic hook in unison, the heart-felt "Real Fine Love" rocked at a steady pace. Hiatt snuck a reworking of the classic Chuck Berry chicken walk on the bluesy crowd favorite "Thing Called Love."

Hiatt and the combo earned a loud and lengthy standing ovation. Their two-song encore started with "Memphis in the Meantime" — replete with an amusing call-and-response between Hiatt and three sections of the room, one of which had to handle a refrain of John Lee Hooker style "Haw-haw-haw-haws." The heavier but typically twangy oldie "Slow Turning" closed the night.

Joyful, gracious, and occasionally glorious, Hiatt gave his fans the musical and lyrical affection they wanted, and he obviously had a blast the whole time.


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